Drug Maker Acknowledges Some Negative Test Results
By BARRY MEIER
Published: June 26, 2004
Source: New York Times
Forest Laboratories has said a recently concluded test found that its antidepressant Lexapro did not help depressed children and adolescents, an announcement that comes amid the growing controversy over clinical drug tests.
The company's announcement is significant because Lexapro contains essentially the same active ingredient as another Forest antidepressant, Celexa, which is widely prescribed for pediatric use.
The company made its announcement late Thursday, when it also released a second statement addressing how it had handled its disclosure of results from two trials of Celexa in depressed children.
The New York Times reported Monday that Forest officials had not told a medical journal about a failed unpublished study in 2002 of Celexa use in children and adolescents, before the journal published an article this month about a separate test indicating the drug could help young people. Some of the recent article's authors were Forest employees.
In recent weeks, pharmaceutical companies have faced growing pressure on the issue of selective disclosure of drug test results. The American Medical Association has called on the federal government to create a database in which trials can be tracked from start to finish. And several medical journals are considering a proposal that would require trials to be registered at the outset as a prerequisite to the results' eventual publication.
Forest's disclosure on Thursday about the negative Lexapro test came before the initial results were presented at a medical meeting or published in a journal. Forest had said earlier that it did not point to the negative Celexa test because there was no published reference to cite.
Forest said that the pediatric test of the drug had been recently completed and that the company had issued a safety report to the Food and Drug Administration indicating that Lexapro did not cause an increase in the test patients' suicidal thinking. Regulators are concerned that several widely used antidepressants like Celexa might cause children and adolescents to harm themselves or consider suicide.
In the separate announcement addressing Forest's handling of the two Celexa tests in depressed young people, the company said, "Given the current increased interest in industry publication practices as well as outstanding questions about the role of antidepressants in the pediatric populations, questions about the availability of these reports have been raised."
The study with positive findings, which was conducted in this country, was published in this month's issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry. The findings of the negative study, which was conducted in Europe from 1996 to 2002, have never been published nor were they referred to in the recent journal article.
In Thursday's release, Forest said that the company had discussed both the "topline efficacy results" as well as safety findings from the failed European study at a meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in October 2003. The company did not elaborate about that presentation, and a Forest official said in an e-mail message that the company could not respond to questions about its statement until early next week.
In previous responses to inquiries from The Times, however, Forest stated that it presented safety data at that meeting, rather than both safety and efficacy findings. Two outside researchers involved in the positive Celexa study, also said in recent interviews that Forest did not tell them about the efficacy findings of the European study and that they were not independently aware of them.
In October 2003, the finding of the European study that Celexa showed no effects greater than a placebo was noted in a chart published in a medical textbook written in Danish. The European study was sponsored by H. Lundbeck, the Danish company that developed citalopram, which Forest markets in this country as Celexa.
Forest officials, who said that they did nothing wrong, also stated in Thursday's announcement that the European study involved some hospitalized patients, while the tests in this country involved only patients treated in clinics or doctor's offices. Both Celexa studies were reported to regulators, the company said.
The company is not currently permitted to promote either Lexapro or Celaxa as a treatment for depression in young people, although doctors are free to prescribe the drugs for any purpose. Celexa is the fourth-leading drug prescribed for pediatric depression.
Because Celexa's patent is about to expire, Forest has been aggressively marketing Lexapro as a treatment for adult depression. The company said in its statement that it intended to discuss with federal regulators its plan to start additional pediatric tests of Lexapro in the hope of eventually winning approval for such uses.
Although Forest's stock fell in after-hours trading Thursday following the company's announcements, and briefly plunged when the market opened yesterday, the shares recovered by the end of yesterday's trading session. They closed at 58.46, up 91 cents. That is still below their 52-week high of nearly $79 in early March.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company